Did I ever! I loved the idea, and once again, as soon as I got into it, enthusiasm hit, and inspiration for the mysteries, characters, and everything else followed.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Did I ever! I loved the idea, and once again, as soon as I got into it, enthusiasm hit, and inspiration for the mysteries, characters, and everything else followed.
Friday, October 28, 2011
What Inspires Me...?
Coffee Inspires me to wake up.
Legos Inspire me to build.
The wordless cartoons of Quino Inspire me to make cartoons.
The Art of David Shrigley Inspires me to make art.
Showers don’t Inspire me to shower but Elephants do.
The xx’s debut album inspires me to draw when I’m too tired to draw...
The Art of Henri Rousseau inspires me to paint places I’ve never been to...
The 1957 Movie Version of 12 Angry Men Inspires me to make a movie...
Chickens Inspire me to lay eggs...
Or is it eggs Inspire me to lay chickens?
Edward Gorey Inspires me to get my pen and ink on...
Boring stuff Inspires me to write...
Exciting stuff Inspires me to write...
Check marks Inspire me to make lists...
Hamsters Inspire me to stick food in my cheeks...
Wagner Inspires me to drink whiskey...
My being tired has Inspired me to bring this Inspirational list to an end...
Or is it the Wagner...?
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Inspiration can come at the most random times and from the strangest of places. The other day I had a great idea for a book title - by misreading the print on a t-shirt whilst shopping.
But mostly I dream my ideas. They come to me in that strange moment between consciousness and non-consciousness just before I fall asleep. So now when I'm stuck for an idea, or I’m having a problem with a plot hole, I'll mull it over for a while and then take a power nap. And strangely enough - It usually seems to work!
I've always had really vivid dreams and nightmares. Usually they're complete rubbish and would make terrible stories, but occasionally I dream of something great. I keep a notepad and pen by my bed now, just in case I wake up in the middle of the night and don't want to forget the details.
I've heard of a few other authors getting their ideas from dreams, so I think it’s quite a common thing. What about you guys, have you ever dreamt of something that you think would make a cool book?
One more thing. Before I go, I wanted to share a link with you. A funny but interesting video by Jackson Pearce on stealing inspiration:
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Category #1: Their writing energizes me, fills me with possibilities, and makes me want to run to my keyboard RIGHT NOW to realize my own stories.
And Category #2: Their writing shakes me on a sub-atomic level to a point where I realize I’ll never, ever be able to write as beautifully, eloquently, and poignantly and so I should probably never write again.
Sometimes I can articulate why an author falls into one category or another. Other times I can’t (it’s mostly if they fall into Category #2 that definition fails me). Here’s a short excerpt from my already short list of Authors Who Inspire Me and my attempt to explain why.
Jonathan Stroud—Everyone I know who loves the Bartimaeus books typically points to one overriding factor: Bartimaeus’s voice. And it’s true that this is probably what first drew me into the series. But it’s Stroud’s command of language that excites me whenever I enter his work. I’m a lover of words and the more sesquipedalian, the better. Not only does he use beautiful language, but he finds a way to make them flow in a way that makes you think those words were always meant to be in just that order. Add to that the aforementioned sense of voice and I can hardly wait to sit at my own keyboard the second I’m done read. Category #1
David Almond—I’m always astounded by people who can do things that I can’t. Acrobats. Triathletes. Almond resonates with me so deeply because he has a skill I deeply admire and envy. His tendencies towards minimalism never fail to take my breath away (often, quite literally). It takes me a long time to read an Almond book because I spend hours trying to figure out how he can evoke such a strong sense of place, character, and atmosphere with so little. In my own writing, I tend to be a bit more…shall we say, verbose. I look at what he does, in books like Kit’s Wilderness and Clay and say, “I can never do that. I should just stop now.” Category #2
A.S. King—There is a dynamic simplicity to Amy’s writing. There are only a handful of people writing YA today who spring to mind when I think of writing that is at once immediately accessible and also wicked smart. Amy’s one of those people. Anyone who wants a master class in writing with layers and symbols without being hoity-toity needs to race out and pick up Everybody Sees the Ants. It is stunning. (Full disclosure: Amy’s debut YA, The Dust of 100 Dogs, was published by the house for which I acquire, although I did not acquire that book and haven’t acquired anything by Amy since, to my sadness.) Unlike the first two authors I mentioned, Amy is harder to categorize. She’s scary smart, which should put her in Category #2. But her carefully chosen syntax and vocabulary that sneak up and force a gamut of emotions from me gets me jazzed so I want to put her in Category #1. For now, let’s say the verdict is out. Category ???
Monday, October 24, 2011
Sometimes, inspiration comes from the little things.
I got the idea for my book, THE MARBLE QUEEN, on a Sunday morning. I was having coffee and reading the newspaper, when I came across an article about a men who were had won national marble shooting competition some fifty years ago. I wondered why girls hadn't participated in the competitions. An idea for a story was born.
Ten-year old Freedom Jane McKenzie longs to enter and win the local marble-shooting competition, even though everyone, including her difficult Mama, tells her that marbles are for boys.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Saturday, October 22, 2011
The middle? Not so much. I find middles extremely difficult. It's so easy for me, once I hit the middle of a book, to gravitate toward a new idea, and sink into a fresh beginning all over again.
I find that I need a burst of inspiration to kick me into gear again once I hit that middle. And nothing works better than just a little bit of kindness...a sweet gesture. Below are a couple of "Because You've Been Working So Hard" bouquets that recently made their way to my kitchen table.
...And judging by my crazy-good word count lately, boy have they worked...
Friday, October 21, 2011
My inspiration for Fantasy Baseball came from an odd source: baseball jerseys. My then-five year old daughter wanted to wear jerseys like her dad, but she didn't really care about the teams or the sports. For fun, my wife and I came up with fantasy baseball teams, as though there were teams in famous kids' books: the Wonderland Hearts, the Oz Cyclones, the Emerald City Wizards, the Neverland Lost Boys. Wendi designs and sews clothing, so she made up the baseball jerseys for our daughter. I joked that "Fantasy Baseball" would make a funny idea for a book, and from that point on it was always a story I was going to write. The result was Fantasy Baseball, a book about a boy from Atlanta who falls into a fantasy world populated by all the characters from classic kidlit, all of who, apropos of absolutely nothing, are playing in a huge baseball tournament.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
I’ve been a fan of puzzles and codes since I was a kid. I used to talk to my friends in Pig Latin, write the secret notes in Alpha-Numeric Code (each alphabet letter matches a number), and learned the American Sign Language Manual Alphabet so I could communicate with my friends in class without the teacher knowing.
After writing several mystery series for adults, I wanted to write a mystery for middle-grade kids, and thought it might be fun to include a code for the readers to solve in every chapter. THE CODE BUSTERS CLUB: SECRET OF THE SKELETON KEY was just published last week and it’s full codes for fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders to solve, such as Morse Code, Braille, Fingerspelling, Alpha-Numeric, Caesar’s Cipher, and even Semaphore. Each reader I meet gets a code-busting kit to go with the book.
The story revolves around thirteen-year-old Cody Jone’s odd neighbor, “Skeleton Man.” The old man has always been a little strange, spying on them from his upstairs bedroom window. But when the Code Busters notice something mysterious going on at his house, they think he’s sending them a message about a hidden treasure. They’re right—the codes are Semaphores that spell out “HELP.”
While most codes have been around for centuries, one of my favorite codes is called the LEET Code, also known as 1337 Code. It’s a recent high-tech creation based on computer keyboard symbols—and it’s just as challenging for adults as it is for kids!
Try to decode the following message in LEET Code. If you can’t, read hints below. If you can solve it, then you’re welcome to join the Code Busters Club, where you’ll find more codes to solve (www.codebustersclub.com).
( 4 /\/ \|/ () (_) ( |2 4 ( I< + # 3 ( () I) 3 ?
For some people, this is as easy as ABC to decipher the code, but for others, it looks like nonsense. If you’re having trouble reading the sentence above, here’s a hint: Each letter of the alphabet has been replaced by a keyboard symbol that resembles the letter. For example, the parenthesis ( becomes the letter C. Now can you see what’s right before your eyes?
Still stuck? All right, here’s the key:
A = 4 B = 8 C = ( D = |) E = 3 F = |= G = 6 H = # I = ! J = _|
K = |< L= |_ M= /\/\ N = /\/ O= () P = |* Q = (,) R= |2 S = $ T = +
U=(_) V = \/ W= \/\/ X = * Y = \|/ Z = 2
I hope that was fun. Now you can communicate with your friends via email, using the LEET Code—and all you need is a computer keyboard!
Penny Warner is the author of the new middle-grade series, THE CODE BUSTERS CLUB: SECRET OF THE SKELETON KEY, and the adult mystery series, HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY. Her latest is HOW TO PARTY WITH A KILLER VAMPIRE, set in a cemetery and featuring a Vampire-themed party. She can be reached at www.pennywarner.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Penny is also willing to give a copy of her book and a Code-Busting kit! To enter, email Penny directly at: pennywarnerink (at) yahoo (dot) com. Entries will be accepted through October 26th!
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
**GALLEY GIVEAWAY DETAILS**
When a mysterious man arrives one day on Orange Street, the children who live on the block try to find out who he is and why he’s there. Little do they know that his story—and the story of a very old orange tree—connects to each of their personal worries in ways they never could have imagined.
The book received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Booklist, so snap this giveaway up or I'm going to take all five copies for myself! :)
To be one of the five winners, simply email me at graff [dot] lisa [at] yahoo [dot] com with the subject line "ORANGE STREET." The winners will be chosen at random on November 1st.
The giveaway is now closed. Congrats to our five lucky winners: Kaela, Janet, Jill, Nicole, and Shannon!
Monday, October 17, 2011
This is when I start thinking about taking the dog for her third walk of the morning, even though she is asleep in a sunspot and will probably not want to be budged. Or maybe I should call my grandmother. I’ve been meaning to call her for about two years. Speaking of my phone, I’m getting sick of the factory ringtone, but I’ve been too busy to stop and figure out how to change it. I could do that now. I could do a lot of things now. I could clean my messy house. Wash the dishes. Pet the cat, who has been sitting just behind my computer, staring at me unblinking, for the better part of an hour.
Inspiration is one thing – one sizzling, startling, head-spinning, gut-grabbing wonder of a thing. Quite another are the pages in between.
People ask me where I get my ideas, and I tell them from my life, from my childhood, from something interesting I saw, from someone wonderful I met.
People ask me where I get my inspiration and I don’t know what to tell them. Inspiration is a mystery to me. It can be as simple as the temperature of the wind on my morning walk, or a word overheard in a crowd. It can come out of nowhere at all and spark a new story so powerful I can think of nothing else. I can do nothing but write feverishly, desperate to capture the story that always seems just out of reach ahead of me. I write like there is nothing else. I write like my characters' lives depend on it.
For about six pages.
Long about page seven … eight … nine … I start to notice the flaws and the plot gaps in the story I’m spinning. I start to think about how there are other, more definite things I ought to be doing. I start to think about how if I’ve lost inspiration this early, I may never find it again, and this story is doomed and will never be finished. I start to think about walking the dog.
I have learned, though, that inspiration is never truly missing. It has simply skipped ahead a page or two, or maybe even a couple of chapters, wanting to know what’s going to happen next, unwilling to wait for me to catch up. If I quit now, inspiration will finish the story without me and I will never get to know what happens. That fire will burn out, inspiration will slip away to some other writer with some other story, and I will never be able to catch up.
But if I keep writing -- even though I’m not feeling anything except frustration and despair and the cat’s eyes on me – any moment now I might turn the page and find inspiration waiting there, crouching behind some random paragraph, ready to grab me and sweep me away into an unexpected plot twist. It could even be on the very next page. Or the next page. Or the next.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Once I have an idea, I can force my way through the bad days, doing the work to get my ideas onto the page even if I don't feel inspired on that particular day (or month) - but before that can happen, I need to find real inspiration somewhere to give me the ideas in the first place. Luckily, by now, at 34 years old, I've figured out some pretty reliable ways to open myself up to inspiration in the first place.
I am not an artist. Ohhh, but am I not an artist. The intensity of my LACK of artistic ability cannot be overstated! In fact, that's not at all surprising, because I'm not a very visual person, in general. And yet...
...and yet, one of the best ways for me, personally, to get my brain moving with inspiration and ideas is to look at art. Back when I was working a day job in Leeds, England, I used to regularly take my lunch periods to walk around the (lovely! and free!) city art gallery, only two blocks away from my office. It always helped stir up ideas for new stories. Before I formed that habit, I used to collect postcards of art I loved from various museums and set them up around my writing area for inspiration.
Now that I live in a small town in Wales, I don't have a local art museum anymore, but I do have an online alternative: Pinterest (which, as everyone who follows my twitter account can attest, is my new obsession)! Pinterest is brilliant for anyone whose imagination is sparked by images, because it lets you collect every image that strikes you and arrange them all on virtual bulletinboards, exactly as you want to see them.
I have one board called Art I Love, where I collect art that starts my imagination going. Sometimes I open that board and just spend long minutes gazing at the collected art, passively absorbing it...and letting my subconscious get to work.
I have another board called Inspiration, which collects images that specifically make me want to get writing. I have separate boards related to different writing projects, and one more board, too...
Getting out of my house, out of town, into a forest breathing with magic - I can't imagine anything more inspiring. When I can't get out physically, I gaze at my Gorgeous Nature Photography Pinterest board to get that sense of space and breadth.
When I can, though...
Today I went to one of my favorite places in the world, the Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean. If you've ever watched the TV show Merlin, you've seen the Puzzlewood, too! It's a natural choice for shows like Merlin and Doctor Who to film in, because it's filled with a sense of wonder and magic.
I sat on a bench by a cairn of stones, near massive, mossy rocks that were only half-lit by a natural forest twilight, even though it was noon and a sunny day outside the wood. Deep, vibrant green was everywhere around me. The trees loomed so high above me.
Suddenly, I wanted to write again...
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Thursday, October 13, 2011
I'm hardly the first person to imagine Sherlock Holmes in the modern era. Case in point: The wonderful BBC series Sherlock has a similar premise, but oh, how different it is!
If we're lucky, the friction caused by the rubbing-up of an idea against the individual artist will create fire.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
What inspired you to write your books?
Where do you get your inspiration?
How do you get your ideas?
I used to borrow an answer from another author – exactly who, I can’t remember and I’m sorry for that.* But it was a he, and at a conference some years ago, he spoke of going to a magical river in the heart of Africa and drinking deeply from its inspiration whenever he needed a good idea.
After saying that, I would go on to explain ...
For me inspiration and ideas are simply floating around the universe. My eyes and ears, and especially my brain and gut are always on standby. When a word or sight or sound or smell or feeling intrigues me, I perk up and I pay attention ...
... which is all well and good, but whenever that pretty explanation rolled off my tongue, I felt as if it fell to the floor and stuck there like a grey blob. Sure, I’d see nods of understanding, but did they really get it? Or were they left as unmoved as I was?
Then one day ...
I put my critique services up for auction in support of author Bridget Zinn, one of the loveliest women I’ve ever been privileged to meet. While I was at the auction site, I also browsed to possibly bid on something for myself. And there it was – a spread from the Caldecott honor book, The Way to Start a Day by Byrd Baylor and illustrator Peter Parnall.
One look at this picture, and I knew: Here was the perfect expression of my explanation ...
The brilliance is out there. It’s just a matter of noticing.
*A signed book to anyone who can tell me who the Idea River author is.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Probably the number one question I get asked is this: "Where do you get your ideas?" or (the same question reworded) "Where did you get your inspiration for your book?" Luckily, I have a very straightforward and easy answer for how I got the inspiration to write JANITORS.
As a full time music student at Utah State University, I needed a flexible, part-time job. Just something to give me enough money to take my wife (then girlfriend) on a date from time to time. I decided to apply at a local middle school as a part-time janitor. I landed the job and spent the next year and a half taking out the trash and sweeping the floors.
I would often find myself at the middle school late into the night. Few places can be more inspiring than a dark school hallway, when the exit signs cast an eerie green glow over the doorways, and the classrooms are steeped in shadow...
Cleaning that school gave me a few hours of daily uninterrupted brainstorming. The time was far more valuable to me than the minimum wage I was earning. As I cleaned, I thought of ways to make a janitor's job more exciting. It wasn't long before I had a notebook full of ideas and a story that was begging to be told.
I took inspiration from my everyday life experiences. With a little magical twist, even a janitor's job can look heroic and exciting. I knew I'd hit the nail on the head when my Kirkus review said that my book "spins plenty of action [and] authentic janitorial detail... around an audience pleasing premise."
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Saturday, October 8, 2011
How often do you hear people say, “All the good ideas out there are already taken”?
Nonsense! Inspiration for something original and exciting is all around us. It simply takes a certain way of viewing the world with a creative eye to capture it. Here’s my take on how to do it.
I think the most wildly imaginative ideas are when two things are put together in ways not seen before. When Reese’s put together chocolate and peanut butter, that was pure genius. How about when E.B. White saw that spider web and imagined writing in it? Or when Roald Dahl ate that peach and thought “What if a kid went on a journey in a dirigible fruit?” J.K. Rowling might not have been the first to put together magic and schools, but for many young readers that was their first encounter with that inventive and appealing idea.
So you’ve got all this stuff in your head. Background knowledge, as they say. That stuff you learned in school. All those experiences you’ve had. All those books you read and fascinating things you’ve encountered. That’s the “compost heap” of your imagination. Some of it breaks down forgotten. But much of it grows and synthesizes with other memories, ideas, and information in your brain into a rich field for growing great story ideas.
Then you encounter something new. Maybe you see some funny bumper sticker while driving in your car. Maybe you’re wandering around a flea market and spot something intriguing. Maybe you’re watching the news or reading a magazine or listening to your child talking to a friend. Your brain suddenly latches on some new information and makes a wild and crazy connection to something in the “compost heap” of your imagination. The light bulb goes off. An idea is born!
This is the heart of inspiration. Everyday encounters can cause a connection between something you already know with something new. Try to put things together in ways you hadn’t considered before.
When I was writing The Nine Pound Hammer, the first book in my Clockwork Dark series, I remember inventing this character name Peter Hobnob who was chained to a tree in the forest. I didn’t know how he was going to escape. I knew I wanted him to have a magical touch, something that would introduce my protagonist Ray to a world that was magical and wondrous. Then, while walking around my yard in mid-summer, I kicked a dandelion. What if Hobnob had a dandelion hat that when placed on his head allowed him to turn into a million little dandelion petals that float away on the breeze?
So look around you. There’s inspiration everywhere. Simply try to make a connection between something new and unexpected you encounter and something already percolating in your imagination. I guarantee something creative and wildly original will emerge.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Stop #6 on the Blog Tour for The Challengers!
(posted by Jody Feldman)
Greg Fishbone has to be one of the most creative, hardest-working people I’ve ever been privileged to meet. So it’s not surprising that he’s taken on the entire galaxy with his new middle grade series. The Challengers, the first book in the Galaxy Games series launched a few days ago with a Game/Puzzle/Contest on a month-long blog tour.
The stop here is day #6 ... and Puzzle Piece #6 is below. If you’ve missed collecting the previous puzzles, go to The Galaxy Games website.
But now, for more immediate gratification, here’s your chance to win a copy of The Challengers. I might give away 2 copies, if, well, go here to read what happened to the ARC and whether or not I’ll get it back to give away.
To win a copy of Greg’s new book, choose one or more:
*Comment here, below, in the Smack Dab blog
*Leave a comment here where I’ve just reviewed the book ... sort of
*Give me shout at the contest status update on my Facebook page
*On Twitter, tweet that you want to win @jodyfeldman; please include the #tysato hashtag
For double your entry, include your favorite galactic element (yes, you can pretend if you don’t really have a favorite). I will take entries through October 15. Good luck!
Now, sit back and enjoy Greg’s entertaining interview.
In The Challengers, Book #1 in the Galaxy Games series, Tyler Sato needs to take on some space travel ... which would be a dream come true for some kids. When you were a kid, did you want to be an astronaut?
The books I read always made it seem like permanent lunar and Martian colonies were just around the corner and from there the human race would spread across the galaxy like ripples in a pond. Instead, we've gone almost 40 years without human beings going any higher than low Earth orbit, less than 300 miles up. The farthest the International Space Station gets from Earth is closer than the driving distance between Boston and Philadelphia--a trip to the ISS and back is actually less of a journey than what my family does on a typical long weekend in our car!
If I were an astronaut today, I'd be incredibly embarrassed by the state of our manned space program. I'd probably tell people I was a plumber or something else instead. On the other hand, today's robotic probes, rovers, and orbiters are doing some amazing exploration work all over the Solar System. For kids these days, growing up to be a robotic probe would be a whole lot more fun and exciting than growing up to be an astronaut!
It seems like Ty was thrust in the role of unsuspecting hero. Talk about a time when had to rise above your comfort level to tackle a situation.
I've never had to overcome longshot odds like Tyler did. I don't know whether I'd be able to step up and take on the galaxy, and I'm honestly not too keen on ever being in a position to find out. But are lots of ordinary-seeming folks throughout history who have done amazingly heroic things. I take my inspiration from them.
The book doesn’t start with Ty in a hero position; in fact, it’s just the opposite. His birthday is the biggest embarrassment ever when his mom forgets an 11 year old has outgrown the birthday clown. What were your birthday parties like? Tell us about your best and/or most embarrassing birthday moments.
My most embarrassing birthday moment wasn't at my own birthday party. It was my cousin's party at the local Burger King. There was a make-your-own-burger station, a cake, balloons, paper crowns, and all the standard decorations. Every kid in our third-grade class was there, and we were all having a great time until my aunt noticed a tiny red dot on my cheek. And then another on my arm. And then a few more in various places. And suddenly, I had a full-blown case of chicken pox. Two weeks later, every single kid at school came down with chicken pox and they all knew they'd gotten it from me.
Space toys. Did you own any? What were your favorite toys and games growing up?
I had Star Wars figures, Luke's landspeeder, and a working model of the Death Star. That's all it took for some basic storytelling: "One day, Hammerhead and Greedo drove their landspeeder to the Death Star for a meeting with Darth Vader and C3P0. Then Bo and Luke drove by in the General Lee and this is what happened next..." It sounds silly now, but it made more sense than any of the prequel movies.
In The Challengers, Ty meets M’frozzo from the planet Mrendaria. Who’s the strangest being you’ve ever met?
There's a giant redwood tree in the Public Garden in downtown Boston. I used to visit it on my lunch hour, when I worked nearby. I thought it had to be pretty depressed, so many thousands of miles from all the other giant redwood trees back in California. I imagined that it probably didn't like the snow much and must hate getting teased by all the local trees who didn't get understand all the surfer-tree lingo. I guess what I'm trying to say is, the strangest being I've ever met is probably me.
Speed round ...
If you had three eyes like M’frozzo, where would you like the extra to be located?
On a fingertip, so I could look for spare change in the couch cushions.
Clown or magician?
Cake or ice cream?
Basketball, baseball, football, hockey or ... ?
E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind?
Other than Earth, favorite planet?
At the moment? Kepler 16b.
And here's Puzzle Piece #6!
Have fun playing along!
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
A few years ago, I tapped into this loneliness and frustration when writing the Julep O’Toole series. Julep gets her journal read out loud over the P.A. system, she throws up on the gym floor, she gets her skirt caught in the automatic toilet. All fictional situations, of course (and not all in the same book), but these ideas were born out of my own struggles to find my place at school, in my family, and in the world.
The second seed of my inspiration is hope. Hope helps you survive the heartache of life. It is what lifts you up. It is the promise that tomorrow just might be better than today. It's also one of the reasons why I, personally, like to read. When I was in the sixth grade, I found a friend - my first real and true best friend. We passed notes, wrote silly poetry, and made up fun nicknames for each other. I was Trubin (so much better than Trudi Fruity!). We laughed a lot, which is why I love to write stories infused with plenty of humor. Our friendship helped me cope with my awkwardness and my feelings of not fitting in. It eased the pain. The joy of friendship is often reflected in my work. In Secrets of a Lab Rat: No Girls Allowed (Dogs Okay), the main character, Scab, says his best friend, Doyle, knows him “from the bones out.” It's all I wanted as a child, someone to know me and love me, for me.